Hoping Senator Manchin Continues the Tradition of Caring About Our Families

There has been a lot of hand-wringing across the country about our Senator Manchin and the Build Back Better legislative package in Congress. There is no question that Senator Manchin has the future of Build Back Better in his hands. Will he vote for this package of family supports? Only Joe knows…. 

I have been on national conference calls ad nauseum calling on West Virginians to influence our Senator. And I can document that West Virginians have sent thousands of calls to his office expressing support for Build Back Better. We have shared the stories of West Virginia families who will benefit from Build Back Better at media events. We have written opinion editorials and letters to the editor. West Virginians even took their kayaks to Washington to encircle the Senator’s yacht.  

So you can imagine how my hackles rose when a colleague from another state asked me, “What is wrong with West Virginia?” 

Even as Senator Manchin holds the fate of Build Back Better in his hands, I want to point out that West Virginia has some bragging rights when it comes to caring about our families and children.  

West Virginia has one of the best state Medicaid programs in the country. We are a “leader state” when it comes to healthcare for low-income folks.  As a former policy director for a national consumer health advocacy organization, I have the authority to make this claim. Here’s a few examples of how West Virginia leads. 

Build Back Better addresses the Medicaid coverage gap that leaves more than 2 million Americans without affordable health insurance coverage – not eligible for their state Medicaid or for premium assistance on healthcare.gov. West Virginia was one of the very first states to expand Medicaid eligibility to eliminate our coverage gap.

Build Back Better creates an option for women to stay on Medicaid for 12 months after giving birth. A new mother must take care of herself to be able to care for her baby. New mothers often need help treating post-partum depression, diabetes, quitting smoking, preventing violence, and treating substance use disorders. It makes no sense to cut off access to healthcare and support for new moms.

Guess what. West Virginia already passed a law last year to get special permission from the feds to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage. It had bipartisan support in our legislature. 

The inclusion in Build Back Better of a dental benefit in Medicare has been hotly debated. Poor oral health can elevate risks for costly chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease and stroke. When left untreated, oral infections, cancers and other diseases that start in the mouth can spread and be deadly.

Guess what. West Virginia already added a dental benefit to our Medicaid program two years ago. Again, it had bipartisan support in our legislature.

Build Back Better includes a provision to require 12 months of continuous eligibility to children enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP. Keeping children enrolled for a full 12 months increases continuity of care, improves health outcomes, and reduces administrative costs.

You guessed right.  West Virginia already has this policy in place. 

And West Virginia was a first state to work with the federal government to create a comprehensive Medicaid Substance Use Disorder program - supported by Republicans and Democrats.

Don’t get me wrong. While West Virginia has been a leader on these policies, Build Back Better will deliver additional desperately needed and deserved financial relief to our families.  

Build Back Better will cut childcare costs in half, cut health insurance premiums, lower prescription drug prices, help with housing costs, and give every family with children a tax break. It could help workers with families by providing paid leave so that family illness doesn’t cost them their paycheck or job. And it will help clean up our environment while creating new jobs for West Virginians.

As we move through December without passage of Build Back Better, Senator Manchin will continue to be the face of West Virginia to many Americans. I hope that he will remember that a vote for Build Back Better would continue a long West Virginia tradition of caring leadership that has put our families first time and time again.